By STEPHEN HAWKINS, Associated Press
WACO, Texas (AP) — Go ahead, surround Brittney Griner with multiple defenders. Do what so many teams have tried against Baylor's 6-foot-8 junior standout in the middle.
And get ready for a chuckle out of Griner, who knows she's not a solo act even while having another All-America season.
"I'm just relying on (teammates). Definitely, when teams come in and they try to lock in on me, I kind of laugh at it," Griner said. "I'm not the only one. ... I could go scoreless in a game and we'd still be OK."
Griner is probably incapable of going scoreless when on the court, but she isn't the only reason the top-ranked Lady Bears (30-0, 17-0 Big 12) have an opportunity Saturday against Iowa State to wrap up their first undefeated regular season.
"It's not just a Brittney Griner basketball team. That team is solid," Kansas State coach Deb Patterson said. "They're solid eight and nine deep. I don't think they get enough credit for that. ... They are a premier-caliber team with respect to their talent and the phenom of Brittney Griner."
The player most often getting the ball to Griner (22.7 points, 9.7 rebounds a game) is Odyssey Sims. The feisty sophomore point guard also has the knack for frustrating opposing ball-handlers.
"I would hate to have to guard Brittney Griner, but I would as much hate to bring the ball up the floor against Odyssey Sims," said Lady Bears coach Kim Mulkey, a tough-nosed guard herself while winning two national championships at Louisiana Tech and a gold medal with the 1984 U.S. Olympic team.
After working the ball up the court against Sims, if successful, opposing teams then face the dilemma of what to do when Griner is defending. The trend for most of the past three seasons has been to shoot more from the perimeter trying to avoid the Big 12 career leader in blocked shots.
Staying outside is no easy task with Sims, Kimetria Hayden, Jordan Madden or Terran Condrey defending on the perimeter. Besides leading the Big 12 in rebounding, blocked shots and assist-to-turnover ratio, the Lady Bears are the top defense against 3-pointers.
And if there is a defensive miscue outside, there is always the line of protection with Griner and usually one of two 6-1 post players — Destiny Williams (9.8 points, 9.2 rebounds a game) or Brooklyn Pope (8.4, 6.0).
"They're very deep, very big, very athletic, very aggressive. It all starts with the tone set by their point guard," Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said. "Sims is really tough and she speeds you up offensively. And Griner's game has grown certainly. ... You make some sort of concessions to try to take Griner out of any phase of the game, they've got other people who can make plays. And it's not just the five. They have the deep bench as well."
The Lady Bears clinched their second consecutive outright Big 12 regular-season title in their last home game Feb. 21. On Saturday, they will be trying to finish undefeated in the Ferrell Center for the second consecutive season, 39 wins in a row so far. That includes victories this season over No. 3 Notre Dame, No. 4 Connecticut and No. 13 Tennessee.
"Griner changes the game, but she's not the only reason that they are exceptional," Patterson said. 'It's a team that is very well put together."
And a team with a very clear focus on winning a national championship that is going to pretty much stay intact after this season.
All five Baylor starters are set to return next season. Condrey is the only current senior who plays significantly.
The Lady Bears won their only national title in 2005. They made it to the Final Four in Griner's freshman season two years ago, then went to a regional final last year before losing to eventual national champion Texas A&M.
Sims, who got her first international experience last summer playing on a U.S. national team, is averaging 14.7 points a game. She has more assists (143) and steals (94) than turnovers (84) while playing nearly 32 minutes a game. Only Griner, the lone college player who is a finalist for the U.S. Olympic roster, has played more for the Lady Bears.